Posted on November 18, 2012 by Roger Brewin
BOOKS, BOOKS, BOOKS, BANNED BOOKS, BOOKS
Books are often at the center of the HUUmanists booth in the Exhibit Hall at General Assembly. A couple of dozen Humanist titles most years – part of offering to our fellow liberal religionists, a wide spectrum of thought on issues of import to us.
In June 2012, in Phoenix, at the ”Justice GA,” over 400 volumes dominated the booth – multiple copies of each of the eighty plus titles, predominantly by Hispanic authors, pulled from the classrooms of Tucson by the State of Arizona, when they banned the teaching of Ethnic Studies. In cooperation with the Librotraficante and Puente organizations, HUUmanists invited individual delegates to each “smUUggle” one of the banned books back into the state. Hundreds responded, and the resulting display was a visual highlight of General Assembly, even covered by the local Fox News station. Buttons in English and Spanish proclaiming the wearer to be a “Book SmUUggler” or “Librotraficante” were easily the most widely flaunted accessory of the gathering, thanks to co-sponsors UU Women and Religion, who arranged for a thousand of them to be available. The UUA Bookstore also pitched in, with an on-hand inventory of many of the titles, so that those who had not brought a book from home could still purchase and contribute at GA.
On the last day, dozens of delegates carried the books held aloft, in a parade through the convention center to waiting cars headed for Puente’s new community library. That evening, HUUmanists’ president John Hooper, HUUmanists' project coordinator Roger Brewin and Librotraficante’s Tony Diaz helped dedicate the library in a celebration of local food, music, and the written and spoken arts, and the importance to every culture of the freedom to write, to read and to teach without censorship. Since June, Puente librarians have also passed along requests for children’s books to supplement the original titles, and several local humanist groups and UU congregations have responded.
In addition, the booth featured the work of Pat Everett promoting the formation of humanist groups around the country jointly affiliated with HUUmanists and AHA, and Kristin Wintermute representing the ongoing educational and training efforts of the Humanist Institute. The social action theme was broadened by materials from both Women and Religion, and the Interfaith Worker Justice Group. This fall, a number of Tucson teens have committed to attending a course in Hispanic literature taught by Curtis Acosta at the Valenzuela Youth Center, studying on Sunday nights the works that are now forbidden to them through the public schools. As a follow-up to our banned book activities at GA, HUUmanists organized drives in several congregations to send copies of Louis Alberto Urrea’s “The Devil’s Highway” and Sherman Alexie’s “Ten Little Indians” to each of those students.
Responding to an appeal by Tony Diaz for events around the country during Hispanic Heritage Month, calling attention to the Arizona classroom censorship, HUUmanists also organized in September over twenty events in a dozen UU congregations and humanist meetings, featuring the books in readings, displays and discussions. With other locations, including groups in Phoenix and El Paso expressing an interest in these books, we continue to organize the collection and shipment of these symbols of humanist values – cultural independence, the power of the arts, and the freedom to read.
As reported in the NY Times Feb. 8, 2013, the Tuscon school district's governing board voted last month to lift its objection to a "culturally relevant curriculum," by a vote of 3 to 2. This reverses its position from when it cancelled Mexican-American studies last year in response to a state law outlawing these studies as being anti-white.
So, a little progress, even though the state law is still in effect, I believe.